Have you ever wished you could instantly be better at roller derby (or any sport) without any hard work, patience, ‘roid rage, or inconvenient doping convictions?
What if I told you that elite athletes are already widely using a traditional, natural supplement with no chance of growing hair on your chest, which reliably improves athletic performance and muscle recovery? That the only side effects are improved mood, better performance on mental tasks, and improved immune system… And that this supplement is completely free?
You would tell me that I’m high, and that it is too good to be true. How could something be free, effective, painless, AND legal? Surely, you’d say, I would have heard of this before, and surely there must be a catch.
If you haven’t solved the riddle yet, maybe you’re just overtired. Because this magical supplement is sleep. 8 hours of it, most nights.
Why sleep more? We all probably know the basics of why sleep is good for us in our daily lives, but here are some surprises for athletes:
Learn new skills faster – Cognitive memory improves with more sleep, and so does muscle memory. But the effects aren’t felt until around the seventh hour of sleep, according to James B. Maas, Ph.D a sleep researcher and co-author of Sleep to Win! Get that extra hour on the pillow after a strategy session or practicing a new skill, and watch your body’s uptake ability increase, and the skills gel more quickly.
Stay healthy during peak training – we need growth hormone for lots of processes in the body, including strengthening our immune system, and repairing muscle tissue – repair we desperately need after smashing into each other and turning left for 2-3 hours at practice a few days a week. Shady athletes juice on human growth hormone to give themselves an illegal edge in competition. But you can create your own, just by sleeping a bit extra. Just like the muscle memory, most adults only secrete growth hormone when in deep sleep, according to Dr. James Winter. More deep sleep = more deliciously legal Giambi-juice.
Quick Reactions – If you’re mentally alert, you’ll be quicker to react to changing situations on the track, and ready to execute the correct strategy in split seconds. The cognitive difference between well-rested athletes and over-tired athletes is well documented, and it’s why teams like the Vancouver Canucks, New York Jets, and US Olympic team are spending time and money to ensure their athletes are well rested for competition.
Don’t Derb Drunk – According to Mark Rosekind, Ph.D, “There are lab studies that show that if you’re an eight-hour sleeper and you get six hours of sleep, that two-hour difference can impact your performance so that it equates to how you would perform if you had a 0.05 blood-alcohol level.” Friends don’t let friends drink and derb. Get your z’s and don’t forget to block the jammer cause you were sporting a pint’s worth of buzz on the track.
How to do it?
Quit your job, turf your family/significant other, and sleep in every day!
OK, that’s not realistic. Some of us may have a hard time EVER getting 8 hours in a single night. But there are some things you can do to help you fall asleep and stay there. The pros all agree on 3 key points:
Low, warm light before bed. Bright, blue light seems to block the production of melatonin, your body’s natural sleep aid. Keep the overhead lights off, and use lamps and nightlights with warm-spectrum (red) tinting. Avoid your smartphone, TV, and computer screen before bed, or if you must, download f.lux.
A dark room. If there are streetlights out your window, or an early sunrise coming to disturb your slumber, figure out a blackout curtain setup that will keep it dark enough for your body to remain in sleep mode.
A cool room. We sleep more comfortably when we’re a little cool. Try lowering the thermostat, and keep an extra blanket handy for wee-hours adjustments.
Derby players have all sorts of great advice for how to get yourself to sleep quickly after a late night practice. Lots of echoes of the experts, but other great tips you provided on my facebook page include:
- Taking oral melatonin (try different brands if at first it doesn’t work, according to one health researcher, as it’s not regulated!)
- A short Epsom salt bath (this will relax twitchy post-practice muscles)
- staying away from the TV,
- reading before sleep to calm your mind (this is my own best sleep aid too),
- stretching before bed,
- magnesium or valerian supplements
- following a bedtime routine to let your brain know it’s sleeps o’clock.
Do you have a failsafe method to get a good night’s sleep? Your fellow athletes would love to hear it, so post in the comments below!
xo Booty Quake
Photo by Dawn Huczek, used under Creative Commons Attribution license.